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shirabe's report from palestine:

Birth of a Movement

A second report from the Dheisheh delegation to the World Conference Against Racism

Shirabe Yamada

31 Aug. 2001, Durban, South Africa

Dear Friends,

Today is a birthday of a new movement. We took part in an official kick-off of the International Anti-Apartheid Movement Against Israel, launched by the South Africans who won the fight against Apartheid in their own country.

The kick-off was declared at a rally after a mass demonstration in which tens of thousands of people took the streets of Durban. Organized by SANGOCO (South African NGO Coalition), PSC (Palestine Solidarity Committee), Durban Social Forum and other grassroots groups, the demonstration was not only joined by the conference delegates but also by thousands of South Africans - activists, trade unionists, students - who arrived by buses and trains from all over the country.

Those who traveled from far away provinces were mostly landless people, who, in striking resemblance with the Palestinian situation, were forcibly removed from their lands and are subjugated to adjunct poverty. The people of landless movement came to demand their right to land and to protest globalization and privatization, the main causes of new economic apartheid in the post-1994 South Africa. Upon their arrival yesterday, the International Landless Assembly was held. Their struggle was supported by solidarity messages from the peoples in similar situations, such as Dalit (so-called the untouchables in Caste system of India), Rigoberta Menchu of Guatemala, and the Palestinians: Ziad Abbas, Co-director of Ibdaa and Manar Faraj, a 15-year-old youth activist from Dheisheh camp.

In the two days leading up to the demonstration, supporters of Palestinian cause and Zionist groups had daily verbal confrontations at the conference site. A small group of Zionists set up a table (without permission, breaking the conference rule on registration) and distributed flyers stating that "Arabs are hijacking WCAR," "WCAR is not a conference about racism, it is a racist conference," etc. A spontaneous demonstration by Palestinian supporters broke out in front of the table, led by South Africans and joined by tens of Arabs, Burmese, Dalits, Japanese, Indians, Americans, Europeans, Senegalese, and many others in a kaffiya, while holding up signs, posters, and Palestinian flags. The police formed a line to separate the two groups. The Zionists, mainly several white male dressed in dark suit, kept singing a same verse "all what we say is give peace a chance" from a John Lennon song. They also tried to hand flowers to Palestinian supporters, who rejected by chanting "no justice, no peace!" Some local and electronic media reported the incidence, including the song and flowers, but failed to describe the context - their presence stood out in the warm and supportive atmosphere of solidarity in this conference, and virtually nobody joined to sing with them in a stark contrast to the Palestinian side.

Today's demonstration, estimated at 30,000 - 50,000 people and possibly the largest one since 1994, was vibrant and musical. South Africans, long-time strugglers and experts of organizing, would punctuate the chanting and marching by breaking out doing 'toi toi (singing, dancing and chanting in a circle)' while crowds, leaders, marshals worked together beautifully. Thousands of colorful signs in the air read "Israel is an apartheid state" "Zionism is Racism" "Land for the Landless" "Sharon is a war criminal" etc. To the South Africans, the resemblance between theirs and Palestinian situations required no explanation. At the rally, a number of speeches were made in solidarity with the Palestinians; having defeated their own apartheid with the help of international community, it was now their duty to lend hands to the Palestinians to fight against the Israeli apartheid. After a moving and powerful speech by Manar from Dheisheh about her determination to continue the struggle, Naeem Jeenah of PSC read the following declaration and, with cheer and applause of the crowd, announced the official kick-off of the movement.




Human rights worker Shirabe Yamada is part of the Middle East Children's Alliance.